The tiny Timken Art Gallery in Balboa Park isn't so little or out of the way that the nation's major art institutions overlook its treasures. Au contraire, the Timken has something of a problem keeping its small but highly respected collection here in San Diego.

The gallery's "Mrs. Thomas Gage" was the centerpiece in a recent National Portrait Gallery exhibit in Washington, a Timken spokeswoman said. Besides placing the painting by Early American portraitist, John Singleton Copley, in the exhibition's most honored location, the Washington gallery reproduced it for the cover of the exhibit catalogue.

Other Timken paintings in demand elsewhere are Rococo artist Jean-Honore Fragonard's "Blindman's Buff" and a Jaques-Louis David portrait. David's "Portrait of Mr. Cooper Penrose" went to the Houston Museum of Fine Arts for a recent exhibit of French portraits. The Fragonard will be in New York and then Boston during the next few months as part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's much-ballyhooed Fragonard retrospective.

Lovers of the Timken's "Castine Harbor and Town," meanwhile, won't find it hereabouts once the Smithsonian Institution's National Gallery opens a planned Fitz Hugh Lane exhibit later this year.

Along with lending, the Timken also knows a thing or three about borrowing. On May 7, the gallery will open a special Jean Baptiste Camille Corot exhibit in San Diego. The Timken has a single Corot canvass, titled "View of Volterra." For the exhibit, the gallery will surround "View of Volterra" with 15 other paintings by Corot, the most prominent 19th-Century French landscape artist before Impressionism.

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